The World Today for April 16, 2024

NEED TO KNOW

Like Father Like Son

TOGO

For years, Togolese citizens have been calling for the resignation of President Faure Gnassingbé. The man has held the office since 2005, but his critics say his political machine stretches beyond those 19 years – his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, was the small, West African country’s president for 38 years before him.

“My father told me to never leave power,” President Gnassingbé famously once said, according to Al Jazeera.

Gnassingbé and his father have run Togo since the country gained independence from France in 1960, wrote Foreign Police magazine. Eyadéma seized power in a coup in 1967. When he died, the military ensured that the son took over. In 2002, the country abolished term limits to allow the president to stay in office.

Recently, anger over Gnassingbé’s refusal to let others take the reins of power had been threatening to bubble over into violence after the president indefinitely postponed legislative and local elections scheduled for April 20.

Last week, the president set a new date – April 29 – for elections, France’s Le Monde reported. But that hasn’t cleared up the situation.

The crisis started when Togo’s legislature adopted a charter last month that empowers lawmakers in the National Assembly to elect a president for a single six-year term, abolishing direct elections, and transferring much of the head of state’s powers to a prime minister who would answer directly to parliament, explained Africa News.

It is unclear when the constitutional changes take effect.

Regardless, opposition candidates rejected the changes, however, saying they would help Gnassingbé remain in power even longer because the prime minister won’t be subject to term limits, the BBC reported. In response, Gnassingbé said the government needed more time to adopt the new rule, but he refused to schedule a new vote until last week.

“The Togolese are angry and they want this constitutional bill to be withdrawn altogether,” Nathaniel Olympio, who leads the opposition Party of the Togolese, said in an interview with Agence France-Presse. “This constitutional coup will not pass … the Togolese people will stand up and say ‘no.’”

Gnassingbé, however, presides over a “partly free” regime, wrote Freedom House, that punishes activists and political dissidents who criticize him or promote reforms.

Togolese police have also raided opposition politicians’ and civil society organizations’ news conferences, where attendees have rallied around the slogan “Don’t Touch My Constitution.” They also arrested prominent opposition politicians who campaigned against the reforms on charges of disturbing the public order, the Associated Press added, including 74-year-old Dovi Amouzou, who suffers from a heart condition but is prevented from seeing her doctor.

Many Togolese are now hoping their country follows in the footsteps of nearby Senegal: After months of an impasse where the former president, Macky Sall, clung to power with every means at his disposal, political newcomer Bassirou Diomaye Faye went from being imprisoned on trumped up charges to becoming the country’s new president on April 2, all within two weeks.

The question now is, analysts say, how much pressure can Togo’s political dissidents dish out – and how much Gnassingbé can take.

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